January 25, 2021

A “Third Bill of Rights”

Posted on 05. Nov, 2012 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

Let’s be inspired by FDR’s grand impetus for turning around a troubled economy.

In his final State of the Union Speech (SOTU), President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Jan. 11, 1944, called on Congress to implement a “Second Bill of Rights” – an “economic bill of rights”, that would guarantee:

A job with a living wage, Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies, Homeownership, Medical care and Education

Roosevelt did not argue for any change to the Constitution. Rather, he contended that these rights – to be implemented politically, not by federal judges – were needed because the political rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had proved “inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”

Over the course of the ensuing decades, we made great strides toward achieving these goals. FDR had already introduced the minimum wage in 1938, and after the war wages expanded, homeownership increased, Medicaid and Medicare were created, and college and trade school enrollments soared. All of this coincided with a prolonged balanced expansion of the economy.

Today, though, we’ve fallen far back from these relative high water marks. The wages of 90% of workers have stagnated in real terms since 1967. The homeownership percentage has shrunk. Fewer employers offer quality medical insurance and pensions. And more than 28 million workers are now unemployed in real terms, with income inequality at an unprecedented level.

There is very little “equality in the pursuit of happiness.”

Thus it is that we need a “Third Bill of Rights” added to FDR’s list: the right of workers to freely join a union, and the right of all Americans to fair elections, with limits on large anonymous contributions and free access to voting booths

Years before FDR’s SOTU in 1944, his National Labor Relations Act recognized the “right to self-organization [and] to form, join, or assist labor organizations.”

Then in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized that “everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.” And of course, the First Amendment has always similarly been read to protect freedom of association. But since the 1960s, when 30-35% of private-sector workers were unionized, the American labor movement has declined significantly. Today only about 7% of these workers are unionized.

I’ve spent a career negotiating deals, and ultimately all negotiations come down to bargaining strength and leverage. When labor was strong, workers achieved fair income growth and the country as a whole prospered. Today, however, the decline of organized labor as a bargaining power has not only adversely impacted wages for the bottom 90% of Americans; it has severely impacted our ability to achieve the other goals laid out in FDR’s address.

And in protecting the right of workers to organize, we would also be protecting their right to a retirement lived in dignity.

We also need to make campaign finance a civil rights issue.

We can’t expect the politicized Supreme Court, the similarly politicized Congress, or the underfunded and thus hamstrung SEC, to address the massive wrongs wrought by Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, American Tradition Partnership v. State of Montana and SpeechNow v. Federal Election Commission – a collection of judicial decisions which has made our electoral process captive to vast and mostly anonymous contributions from big business.

While none of the large corporations that now dominate American elections is specifically anti-civil rights and anti-civil liberties, every one of these companies, in order to advance its corporate, management, and sometimes global trade agenda, contributes huge amounts of money to federal candidates who are often anti these things.

Indisputably, these big business contributions are directly enabling closed voting booths, insensitive immigration policies, regressive tax policies, continuing attacks on reproductive rights for women and equal rights for gays and lesbians, and blatant union busting.

The nation’s civil rights, civil liberties and labor organizations should all demand an end to political contributions that work against a fair and inclusive society. And if Congress won’t respond, then this demand should be taken directly to consumers and the marketplace.

We need to protect FDR’s Second Bill of Rights, and now we also need to turn around and better balance our troubled economy. This new two-point “Third Bill of Rights,” also enacted politically, would both form a ‘national collective bargaining unit’ large enough to reinvigorate middle working-class Americans and restore fairness to our democracy.

The author can be contacted at comments@intermediaadvisors.com. He is the former CEO of AT&T Broadband and its predecessors, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) and Liberty Media, and is currently an investor in media companies.

This article was submitted by Leo Hindery, Jr. a regular contributor to the New Mexican Voice


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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